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Student life-after you start

Mental health at university

Information and support for mental health and wellbeing at university.

Upset student looking through window in university

CONTENTS

  1. Where to find support
  2. Why are students particularly vulnerable?
  3. What are the facts on student mental health?
  4. What are universities doing?
  5. How to look after mental health at uni

Going to university can be a huge leap into the unknown. It might be your first taste of living away from home, which can be a stressful transition. Stress can also come from other sources, like financial or academic pressure. Taking care of your mental health is therefore extremely important – at university, and beyond.

Where to find support

If you’re feeling under pressure, the main thing to remember is – you’re not alone. Many students experience similar things, and mechanisms are in place to support you.

Within your university

There are a number people you can speak to about mental health at university, as well as dedicated support services. After speaking to friends or family who you trust, a good starting point could be your personal tutor. They should be able to point you in the right direction.

You can visit your GP – whether at university or home – who will be able to recommend the best course of action.

You can also seek mental health and counselling services yourself. All universities have specialist services that offer free and confidential advice and support. Who you speak to may depend on the nature of your issue – if, for example, you're stressed about money, you could seek guidance from a dedicated financial support service. University staff, campus receptions, students’ unions and university websites should be able to help you find these services.

Your personal tutor or a relevant member of staff will also be able to assist with any academic issues, and may help make arrangements such as extensions for deadlines.

Outside of university

A growing number of charities and organisations provide free and confidential advice, including Student Minds, Mind, SANE and the Mental Health Foundation.

For 24 hour support, you can call:

  • Samaritans – free, over-the-phone emotional support to anyone in distress in the UK, on 116 123
  • Rehab 4 Addiction – free hotline dedicated to helping people suffering from drug, alcohol and mental health issues, on 0800 140 4690
  • For urgent medical attention, you can go to Accident & Emergency (A&E) at your nearest hospital, or make emergency GP appointments. For urgent medical advice, call NHS England on 111, or NHS Direct in Wales on 0845 46 47

If you’re in a life-threatening situation, call 999 immediately.

Why are students particularly vulnerable?

Common problems university students face include:

Financial strain

Tuition fees aren’t cheap, and despite support such as student loans, living as a student can be costly, especially when you consider accommodation and other necessary outgoings. It’s no surprise that financial strain is one of the major stressors for students, even more so for internationals and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Academic pressure

The stress of exams, coursework and expectation is nothing new to students, but the intensity and nature of it at university can come as something of a shock. In higher education, you’re asked to learn independently, manage your own time, and think critically and originally. For many, this sudden responsibility can be overwhelming and serve as a significant source of stress.

Feeling like you should be enjoying yourself

Before you start, and throughout your time as a student, people tell you that university is the best time of your life. For many, it will be. But not everyone enjoys it, and the added pressure of feeling as though you should can add to the problem. You’re potentially expected to quickly settle into a new home and make a whole new group of friends, so it can be a very overwhelming experience.

Bullying, harassment and assault

Unfortunately bullying – from deliberate exclusion and name-calling to harassment and physical assault – is something that still sometimes happens to students. If this happens to you, there are people at your university who you can talk to, such as your student union's welfare officer, or others who've experienced it themselves. The NUS website has an advice page on how to deal with bullying in student accommodation. There are also charities with helplines, including BullyingUK and the Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation.

If you feel you've been the victim of sexism at university, there are a number of other dedicated support services.

What are the facts on student mental health?

According to a survey by the National Union of Students (NUS) in late 2015, 78% of students in the UK said they'd experienced mental health issues in the previous year. The survey revealed 33% of respondents had experienced suicidal thoughts, and among those who didn't identify as heterosexual, the figure stood at 55%.

More than half of respondents to the NUS survey (of 1,093 students) who reported having mental health problems also said they didn't seek support, with a third saying they wouldn't know where to get support from, and 40% reporting they'd be nervous about any help they'd receive.

In the academic year 2014-15, over 43,000 students at Russell Group institutions alone had counselling. Three years earlier, the figure was 34,000.

In May 2016 a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by NUS Scotland revealed that the number of students in Scotland seeking help with mental health issues has increased by 47% over a four-year period.

Regarding student suicides, the most recent data available from the Office for National Statistics reports on the situation for 12 months ending July 2017. In England and Wales, the figure stood at 95 students, equating to one death every four days.

What are universities doing about it?

Universities have a responsibility to take the mental health of their students seriously, and many do an excellent job in dealing with it. From dedicated advisors for students with diagnosed mental health issues to drop-in counselling and therapy services for all students, each university has its own way of making sure everyone feels valued.

Universities UK and the charity for the prevention of young suicide, Papyrus, have published guidance for universities and student mental health. It suggests all student-facing staff undergo training for suicide awareness, so they can help spot issues in students.

How to look after mental health at university

Join a club, society or group that suits your interests and supports you – This could be anything from a niche sports team within the university or a volunteering group in the local community.

Take care of your wellbeing through nurturing activities – If you can, try and exercise, get enough sleep and spend time in nature. These activities can help give the brain a break from fast-paced university and social life.

Find out what support your university offers – Get to know the support services available, so you know where to go and who to trust if you need help.

Look out for others – Let your friends know you’re there for them. Remember that mental health issues such as depression are usually invisible illnesses.

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